DOUBT. Every person has struggled with it at some time or another, whether they be an atheist, agnostic or religious. The atheist questions, “What if I’m wrong and there really is a God?” The Christian questions, “What if I’m wrong and Christianity is not true?” The agnostic (who maintains that no one can know whether God exists or not) lives in a perpetual state of doubt.
Now you might be one of those individuals who has never doubted God’s existence or doubted that you are truly saved. Good for you. But you may have doubted other things such as election and free will or whether God listens to your prayers. Or perhaps, during a particularly difficult season in your life you have doubted God’s goodness.
That brings us to one of the most famous doubters in the bible: Thomas. His story is told in John chapter 20. Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to a number of his followers. The only one not to have seen him is Thomas. When they tell him about it, he just won’t buy it. Maybe he thinks they have imagined it or they saw someone who looked just like Jesus. What ever his reasons, he’s not swallowing any of it. Finally, in exasperation he says,
“If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Now it is very easy from the vantage point we have, to rag on this guy for his scepticism and unbelief. But we need to be careful that we don’t sell Thomas short. There are two other places in John’s gospel where Thomas appears. And what we learn about him may just surprise you.
Scene 1: John 11
Jesus is out beyond the Jordan River with His disciples – preaching and baptizing. He then gets word that his friend Lazarus is sick – very sick. After two days Jesus says, “Let’s go to Judea.” Well the disciples aren’t too keen on this because the last time Jesus was there the Jews had tried to stone Him. Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.” They reply, “That’s great, if he’s asleep, he’s going to get well.” Jesus replies (in a manner of words), “No you idiots, he’s dead. He’s meant to die so you can see the power of God at work. So, let’s go to him.” Thomas, in response to this says, “Let’s go too so that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16)
Ok, so the disciples really don’t get it. But what I want you to see here is Thomas’ devotion to Jesus. He thinks that Jesus is going to join Lazarus in death. And he is willing to go and risk his life and follow him. He even challenges the others to come along. So that’s our first portrait of Thomas: devoted, committed and willing to follow Jesus to death.
Scene 2: John 14
Jesus has just told the disciples that He’s leaving them. He is returning to his Father. Jesus says, “You know the way where I’m going” (verse 4). Thomas asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, how do we know the way?” That’s the question everyone else is thinking but don’t want to ask in case they look stupid. Thomas takes the initiative. He doesn’t mind asking the hard questions. He’s not afraid to speak up. That’s the Thomas we’re looking at here – devoted, committed, and unafraid to speak up and ask the hard questions.
The fact that Thomas has serious doubts that Jesus has come back to life – physically and bodily, doesn’t change any of that. It doesn’t make him a failure. It doesn’t mean he is spiritually weak, just like you having doubts about something doesn’t make you spiritually weak.
A week goes by, and the disciples are together again, behind locked doors. Jesus appears to the disciples the same way he had before, out of nowhere. This time Thomas is there. Can you imagine his expression, when he sees Jesus with his own eyes? Jesus heads straight to Thomas and says to him,
“Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” (John 20:27)
This is how Jesus often deals with our ignorance and our stubbornness isn’t it? He’s gentle and accommodating. He knows our faults; He knows what we are made of; and whatever the doubts, whatever the uncertainty Jesus accepts it, and meets us in the middle of it. Our Saviour is big-hearted. He loves Thomas and he wants to see him come to a fullness of faith and belief. “Thomas, come now; don’t come unbelievingly. Come with faith; come with trust to Me.”
Take heart Christian, if this big-hearted Saviour was patient with Thomas, then he’ll be patient with us too. He says to us,
“Come to Me. Come with your questions. Come to Me with your doubts. Come to me with your concerns. Come to me even with your demands, and I will be able to answer all of them.”
There’s a wonderful verse in a hymn written by William Bright,
How oft, O Lord, Thy face hath shone
On doubting souls whose wills were true!
Thou Christ of Cephas and of John,
Thou art the Christ of Thomas, too.
Thomas’ response is just wonderful. He says, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Thomas declares that Jesus is the God. To look into the face of Jesus is to look into the face of God – the Almighty – the one true God. For Thomas – there’s no doubt. Only belief. God has come to Him. Whatever doubts he may have had Jesus has responded to them. God’s truth has been revealed. He sees now with his own eyes: Jesus is the risen Lord – victorious over sin and death. Jesus responds in verse 29,
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)
What an astounding statement from our Lord here. He is looking forward, past Thomas, past the disciples to those who will believe Him in the future. He is saying, “How blessed will be those not because they have seen me, not because they have prodded and touched me, but because they trust in the infallible, inerrant Word of God. How blessed will be those people!”
And so, bringing all this to a close, it is not wrong or sinful for you to doubt. The question is, what will you do with your doubt? Will you push forward to faith or will you slip backwards to unbelief? Because you can’t stay where you are. To linger in doubt is dangerous.
Faith is sometimes difficult. I’m the first to admit it. It’s not always easy. And for faith to be genuine, it will always have questions and doubts accompanying it, otherwise it isn’t real faith.
It’s not always an easy road to walk – Jesus never promised us that. But he does promise to be with us in the middle of it. He will meet us in our doubts. And when he comes, he won’t come to scold, he won’t come to rebuke, but to gently and patiently work with us so that we progress through to faith.
Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached from the Gospel of John. You can listen to the full audio on our website here.